IN THE SHOE REPAIR BUSINESS, economic boom times usually mean bad news. Rents go up, and people buy new shoes instead of fixing old ones.
“Most shoes are synthetic, cheap. They’re just throwaways,” says Raymond Angel, the third-generation owner of Angel’s Shoe Repair.
Yet Angel’s has hung on ever since Raymond’s grandfather, Joseph, and great-uncle, Isaac, opened the shop in downtown Seattle in 1912, two years after arriving from the Island of Rhodes. They passed the business down to Joseph’s son, Eli, who renamed the shop Eli’s Shoe Repair and moved it to East Republican and 15th in 1941 after the downtown landlord demanded $3,000 in back rent owed from the Depression years.
A man who loved learning and spoke multiple languages, Eli wanted his children to follow a different path, and he was happy to see them become the first in the family to attend college. Raymond Angel planned to pursue a career in criminal justice.
But in 1975, Angel found himself without a job and with doubts about his commitment to working with criminals. While a recession kept career prospects at bay, his father’s shoe business was humming along. His mother convinced him to help out. “I had an instinct with how to do things, and I was decent with mechanics,” he says.
In 1980, Angel officially took over Eli’s Shoe Repair and restored the shop’s original name. The core business has remained essentially the same: ripping out old soles and nailing in new ones, re-stitching ripped fabric, mending broken heels.
All was well for another quarter century until another devastating rent hike occurred in 2015, when Washington state legalized recreational marijuana. According to Angel, the landlord who had been renting to his family since the mid-1950s tripled rent in anticipation of a tenant in the marijuana business. Unable to pay, Angel had to leave.
Then something special happened. Ian Eisenberg, the owner of Uncle Ike’s, moved in and offered the 70-year-old shoe repairman a space next to his new pot shop. Angel’s new location is just around the corner from his old building.
“Ian realized that if he took me in, it would be good for business,” Angel says from behind his cluttered counter on a recent Wednesday evening. The smell of weed seeps in, but that doesn’t seem to bother him. “I have more problems with the glue smell than the pot smell,” he says.
Angel’s grandfather would hardly recognize the city outside his old shop, but odors aside, little has changed within its walls. Customers practically trip over the 1904 Singer sewing machine as they enter, which can still glide through quarter-inch thick leather. Behind the desk is the 1912-built stitcher, the same one that can be seen in the black-and-white photo of Angel’s father hanging by the front door. Stretching along the back wall is the 1934 finisher — an assembly of wheels, belts, and molded metal like some Depression-era farm equipment.
If something breaks, Angel fixes it the best he can. Parts are practically impossible to find. “We pray a lot,” he says.
After his business was tossed into uncertainty in the scramble for pot shop locations, Angel says he emerged even stronger. The 209-square-foot space on 15th Avenue gets far more foot traffic and better sunlight.
Angel is 70 now and has no plans hand off the business to his two kids or another owner. He has no plans to retire, either, but when he does, it will likely mark the end of the three-
generation business that survived more than a century of changes.
In his typical easygoing fashion, Angel shrugs when asked to reflect on the final act of Angel’s Shoe Repair. “I wasn’t supposed to be here, so how can I feel bad?”